Thales wants bigger slice of bizjet avionics

 - May 21, 2008, 11:22 AM

Thales announced it is aiming to become a major supplier of avionics systems to the business aviation market, challenging the likes of Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, and achieving a “very significant” increase in revenue.

Emmanuel Grave, executive vice president and general manager of Thales Airborne Systems, told reporters at an EBACE breakfast meeting yesterday, “We will be a leader in bizjets as we are in the air transport market. This is our ambition, we have the resources, we are looking at very significant increases [in revenue] and we’re not talking five or ten percent.

“With the bizjet market doubling every ten years we see it strategically as a good market, with increasing synergies with the regional and air transport markets. The convergence is stronger and stronger,” continued Grave.

Thales doesn’t see smaller aircraft, where it is less able to transfer its existing systems, as its domain but is not ruling it out. “Our strategy is to increase market share on medium and large bizjets although that doesn’t mean we won’t target the smaller end of the market,” Grave said.

Another major factor in its decision is the decreasing size of systems. “Electronics technology is shrinking so it is possible to propose similar technology for bizjets,” said Grave. “But as electrical hardware becomes more and more compact, various suppliers will have to work together so systems can be compact and minimize power consumption. We are proposing a solution and have a full partnership with the airframers.”

Heading Thales’ drive will be the company’s separate business unit for business and regional aviation, based in Montreal, revealed Grave. He declined to discuss specific figures as to its current market share, saying that “it depends on the segment.” As for the percentage of the company’s revenues which currently relates to business aviation, and the company’s projected growth plans, he said, “When we win a new position there is a time lag before we see an impact on revenues–and we are winning more and more positions. We will perhaps see the effects five years later.”

Grave said Thales had recorded some notable successes in business aviation upon which it could build. “We are already in some segments in bizjets so we are analyzing how to increase that. We have been selected for the [Gulfstream] G650 for the full fly-by-wire system and also won another contract for a bizjet [flight control] application”–although he declined to disclose the manufacturer.

Thales has also been selected to supply the HUD for the Global Express XRS and Global 5000, he said. “In business aviation we have long experience and a clear understanding of OEM requirements and a worldwide presence in the support domain,” all things that would support its efforts.

Grave added that the business jet market was looking for the same things as commercial air transport–for example future-proofing (such as future ATM), customization, reduced time-to-market, early validation of concepts and optimized dispatch reliability.

Grave is also bullish on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems market, saying that it has started to “analyze if now is the time for us to enter the bizjet IFE market.” He highlighted Thales’ leading role in pioneering connectivity solutions with its current trial with Air France and announced that it has won a “position with a particular [business jet] manufacturer for Wi-Fi and SwiftBroadband for a single aircraft type with an option on their other platforms.” He declined to reveal the manufacturer or aircraft type.

Alain Boursier, Thales senior vice president and director general of regional and business aircraft, said, “We have the competencies and the basic technologies for IFE. Our Wi-Fi application is fully matured and engineered and is now being evaluated in Air France service.”

Thales (Booth No. 940) is an undisputed leader in avionics for transport aircraft, particularly European aircraft, such as the new ATR42/72-600 and the entire Airbus family, including the A380 and A350. It is also a tier one avionics supplier on the Sukhoi SuperJet 100, which made its maiden flight earlier this week.